Hello friends! It’s been a while since my last update, and that’s because I’ve been busily finishing my next book! It’s a companion to my first novel, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. Here’s the amazing cover, drawn by Gilbert Ford:
The book comes out Spring 2016. It is without question the most monster-filled story I have ever written. Here’s the summary from the catalog:
Whenever I start a new book, I try to put together a soundtrack that makes me feel the way I want the story to make me feel. It’s a valuable tool, because at some point I become sick of my own book, and the songs help remind me what I’m aiming for. Screenwriter John August puts it well: “A good playlist helps you get started. A great playlist helps you finish.”
I thought I’d share some of the songs that helped me finish The Night Gardener. According to iTunes, I listened to these and a few other tracks more than 300 times …
As many of you know, last week was “Children’s Book Week.” Authors were asked to submit 1 min videos talking about books they love. I knew that wasn’t enough time, so I instead made my video into a sort of flashcard challenge:
I got a number of emails from people wanting to know all the book titles, so here’s the master list:
The Little Prince – Alice in Wonderland – The Golden Compass – A Little Princess – Darth Paper – Pinocchio – Rutabaga Stories – Mary Poppins – Bud, not Buddy – The Chocolate War – The White Mountains – The Witch of Blackbird Pond – The One and Only Ivan – Matilda – The High king – Holes – The Higher Power of Lucky – The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles – Five Children and It – The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane – Book of the Dun Cow – Howl’s Moving Castle – Peter and Wendy – The Twenty-One Balloons – Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle – A Wrinkle in Time – Little Women – The Princess Academy – The Graveyard Book – Charlotte’s Web – Dominic – Diary of a Wimpy Kid – The Phantom Tollbooth – My Father’s Dragon – The Neddiad – Anne of Green Gables – Redwall – The Man in the Ceiling – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Winnie the Pooh – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
A few weeks ago, I did a Creative Mornings talk at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum on the topic of “Childhood.” This was my attempt to connect children’s literature to a broader audience–specifically talking about what it means to work in an industry where the audience (children) are separate from the buyer (grownups). Of special interest might be the anecdote I tell about Tom Angleberger at minute 15 … an event he has since claimed didn’t occur (it totally did). Also, of course, I finish things off with a yo-yo show!
Creative Mornings is a fantastic organization. Find out about the next event in your own city and check it out!
The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. […] He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.
I feel like a piece like this crops up every year or so, and the consistent factor in all these articles is that the author feels left out of a culture that he/she does not belong to. This article feels about as accurate as those that came out of 9/11 declaring that irony was “dead.” If anything, the hipsters I have known have been excessively earnest people … the only way you might think otherwise is if you were extrapolating their entire person from their clothes, facial hair, and twitter feeds. Lady Gaga may wear a meat dress, but she also gives speeches about bullying. Those same smirking “harlequins” were the ones who started the Occupy movement.
More importantly, I disagree with the premise that earnestness is inherently superior to irony. Since when has the ability to laugh — especially at oneself — been a bad thing?2 The author points to 4 year-old children and animals as exemplars of earnest behavior. From where I stand, those are not necessarily things for adults to aspire to. To celebrate humanity is to celebrate the ways we are different from animals — irony is one of the ways we can do that.
Sure, there’s a possible danger to too much detachment. And, as I’ve discussed before, it can be used to hurt people. But none of these things are unique to one generation.
Please pass the word to any-and-all librarians you know that the historic CC Mellor Library in Pittsburgh is looking for a new children’s librarian! This library is two blocks from my house and it is a truly lovely building in the middle of a charming, safe, historic neighborhood.
If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you should know that it is an incredibly livable city — some people (ahem, Forbes Magazine, The Economist) would even say it is the most livable in the United States. Also, it is home to Mr. Rodgers. Try and tell me you don’t want to come to work in a place that looks like this:
Just to sweeten the pot: I’ll take whoever gets the job to D’s Six Pack and Dogs for dinner — you have not lived until you’ve eaten a salad with french fries on top.
You can find all the info about the position here. Tell your friends!
One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately are the differences between cable and network television. This is not a new topic. Much hay has been made of the way pay-channels like HBO and Showtime don’t have to worry about commercial breaks … but why is it that even the shows on “free” cable channels like FX and AMC still feel better than network shows?1
For me, one essential factor is the difference in season lengths. Cable TV shows generally only run for 11-13 episodes per season, while network shows nearly double that number. Obviously, a writer needing to produce twice as much content in the same year might end up sacrificing quality for speed … but what if there were another reason? What if a shorter season was actually linked to better storytelling in some essential way?
This week I’ve been enjoying reading the AV Club’s series of interviews with “Freaks & Geeks” creator Paul Feig, in which he talks through the writing and shooting of every episode in the short-lived series. In the interview, Feig discusses how he and co-creator Judd Apatow discovered early on they were being cancelled at the end of the season:
This comment was sort of an “Aha!” moment for me. Suddenly, Feig and co-creator Judd Apatow had to cram all the best story parts into the final six episodes. And maybe that’s why “Freaks & Geeks” was such a brilliant show — every episode felt like it was truly an event. I can’t help but wonder if the show would have been quite as strong without the axe hanging over the creators’ heads?2
Going back to the question of cable shows, I can’t help but think of how Feig’s experience applies to season premieres and finales. Premieres and finales are where a series delvers its biggest dramatic punch — rules are changed, people are killed, stakes are raised. A little basic math informs me that a cable show (whose seasons end after just 13 episodes) will have those moments twice as often as a network show. No matter how you cut it, that gives the cable show a huge storytelling advantage because it disallows filler.3
How does this apply to writing in general? I suspect it connects somehow to series books, but I haven’t worked that part out. In the meantime, it’s simply a powerful parable about the importance of not holding anything back. I’m currently in the middle of a second book, and I’m constantly getting exciting story ideas that I think I should save for a story in the distant future. That’s ridiculous. I should be putting everything into the book I’m writing now. I should be treating this book like the last one I may ever get to write.
- “Free” is, of course, a euphamism for hundreds of dollars a year ↩
- British TV seems to have internalized this idea without the need of a network axe. Consider the abbreviated runs of “The Office” or “Fawlty Towers,” both of which ended because their respective creators would rather have no new episodes than bad new episodes ↩
- If you’re in the mood for more TV thoughts, you should check out screenwriter Matt Bird’s current blog series “How to Create a TV Show” ↩
The last five weeks have been an insane grind for Team Auxier. I was planning to do several posts announcing various things as they came up, but time got away from me. Instead, I’m just going down the list …
I’ve been touring schools and bookstores all over California — about thirty events in the last month. (Click here to see pictures from a recent event … and video of me doing a favorite YO-YO trick!) I also managed to sneak out to Wordstock in Portland and the Miami Book Fair International.1
I OPTIONED A MOVIE
To real producers! With real money! The story is one I’ve been working on for a while — a period ghost tale in the tradition of Washington Irving about a haunted tree. The one problem was that selling the movie meant I had to completely re-write the last half while on book tour. I finished last night!
This month, Mary and I packed up all our dishes and made the 3000 mile trek to Pittsburgh, PA!2 The ‘Burgh is a wonderful city that has topped virtually every “most livable” list for the last decade. Also, we met there.
WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!
One great thing about Pittsburgh is an abundance of amazing old homes. Coming from the West Coast, I thrill at the idea of living in something not covered in stucco. As of last night, Mary and I are the owners of this hundred year-old gem on a tree-lined street in Regent Square. How’s that for a black Friday purchase?
AND THE LAST THING …
You might be asking yourself why a young couple might leave sunny Los Angeles for snowy Pittsburgh? Well, Mary grew up here, and we want to be near family when we have our baby in May. Did I mention we’re having a baby? Because we so totally are.
What’s the difference between irony and sarcasm? Most thesauri list them as synonyms, but anyone who’s been on the receiving end of either type of humor can tell you the difference at once: ironic statements make you laugh, and sarcastic statements make you cry.
Many a protective parent has assured his or her teased child that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor. And the word sarcasm literally translates to mean “to tear the flesh.” But what exactly is it it about a sarcastic statement that makes it a low form of humor? And what makes it “tear the flesh?” I’ve been mulling over this question for a while now, and I think I’ve landed on an answer:
Sarcasm happens when the observed irony does not extend to the speaker.
That is to say that an ironic person includes himself among the mocked, whereas a sarcastic person stands outside the situation in judgement. See how it might play out in the below scene involving a bunch of nerds camping outside of a movie theater:
In this instance, the guy making fun of the people is including himself in the joke — after all, he’s in the line, too! But consider what happens when the speaker is not in line with the others:
Sarcasm is the one kind of joke that can be made by someone who does not actually find something funny — it is humor for the humorless. In life, I have a problem with sarcasm because I don’t believe that any person has the right to laugh at others unless he can first laugh at himself.
And what about sarcasm in storytelling?
To be clear, I’m all for sarcastic characters (I enjoy Holden Caulfield as much as the next guy!). But sarcastic authors are a different thing altogether. Sarcastic authors attempt to point out absurdities in the world, but they try to do it from a safe distance — never letting themselves become a part of the joke. The only way to do this is by creating straw men for the express purpose of knocking them down. Ironically(!), this ends up undercutting the author’s initial goal, because now instead of critiquing the world, he is critiquing some flimsy characters who bear little resemblance to the world.
The end result is a thing neither funny nor true.